PEN World Voices Stand-Up Critics #5: Laura Miller

By Jane Ciabattari

Between now and May 1, 2011, the PEN World Voices Festival presents a team of National Book Critics Circle Stand-Up Critics. These influential and celebrated American critics will appear before every Festival event with the intention to enhance Festival audience already-extensive list of must-reads. These six tireless servants of literature will rotate throughout the week to suggest individual lists of thirty meticulously tested titles. The Stand-up Critics will present  1) a contemporary novel 2) a translated book 3) a classic 4) a small/indie press title and 5) a surprise! For more information, see the PEN World Voices Festival website, See #6 here tomorrow.


Recommendations from Laura Miller

Contemporary novel: The Silent Land, by Graham Joyce (Doubleday). A couple on a skiing vacation survives an avalanche, only to find their hotel and its village strangely deserted. Rare is the novel that can combine the eerie metaphysics of a fable with a completely realistic and heartbreaking love story.

Translation: The Indian Bride, by Karin Fossum, translated by Charlotte Barslund (Houghton Mifflin). People will tell you this is a detective novel, and it is, but it's that rare crime fiction that makes the victim more important and, paradoxically, more alive than her killer.

Classic: Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope (Penguin Classics). In-fighting among provincial clergymen in nineteenth-century England. No premise could be duller. No novel could be more fun, which is probably why they never assign Trollope in college. But proceed with caution: His books are addictive.

Small/indie press: Love in Infant Monkeys, by Lydia Millet (Soft Skull Press). Short stories about famous people and the animals in their lives. By juxtaposing the vapid obsessions of our time with the eternal verities of creaturely existence, Millet finds profundity and humor where you least expect it.

Surprise! Little, Big, by John Crowley (Harper Perennial Classics). A man walks from the East Village to a very peculiar house in upstate New York to marry a woman named Alice. Renaissance memory arts, alchemy and Frederick Barbarossa come into it, too. This is the ultimate cult novel, and once read, never forgotten.